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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mrs. R. visits the island of St. Helena ...

... and meets the brother of a man whose name was to go down in history, and who shows an unusually warm side to the family nature

Porteous House, where the Reids stayed

At the end of October [1799] we made St. Helena, having been little more than eight weeks from Cork. A boat was dispatched from the ship to report our arrival and business to the governor, in the afternoon our boat returned with permission for the ship to anchor. Our salute of nine guns was returned by the batteries on Ladder-hill. We found lying here, five sail of Indiamen waiting for convoy, some of which had been detained upwards of six weeks.  As they were all full of passengers, their stores were almost all expended; in consequence of which, the private adventures, consisting of eatables and drinkables, such as hams, cheese, butter, porter, wine, &c. came to a good market.

The island at our coming into the road, and also from the anchoring place, appeared a barren rock; as only a few trees were seen in front of the governor’s house facing the sea. Pursuing the prospect up St. Jems valley, where the town stands between two hills, if the island were subject to earthquakes, it might be feared that it would sometime or other be buried, by the high perpendicular rocks which overhand on each side. The only conspicuous buildings from this point of view, besides the government house, are the church and hospital.

In the evening the captain waited upon Governor [Robert] Brooke, to whom he was known, and was received in the most friendly manner. Notwithstanding the island was rather short of provisions, three bullocks were supplied for the prisoners; and plenty of vegetables, which arrested the progress of the scurvy, which had begun to appear on board.

On the same day the Captain had the pleasure to see his old friend and shipmate, Mr. H. Porteous, the Company’s botanist, who had accompanied him to the Coast of Guinea, when sent thither by the present governor in 1792. This gentleman insisted that I should proceed to his country residence, called Orange Grove, nearly at the extremity of the Island. His kind invitation was accepted, and next morning we went on shore. I was mounted on a fine litle pony, and proceeded up the zig-zag road, called Ladder-hill, whence we had a fine view of the shipping below; they appeared much diminished in size, from our being so high above them. The guns at this place pointed down immediately at the road. We still ascended and passed the governor’s residence, called the Plantation house, to the right, after which an immense high peaked mountain opened to our left, called High Knoll, on which it was intended to place cannon. We arrived at Mr. Porteous’s house about four in the afternoon, and found his lady a most affable pleasant woman; she was born upon the island of European parents.

I was happy to have this change from being on shipboard, and in the morning was surprised by finding myself actually among the clouds; for soon after sun-rise they rolled down the hills in columns, like curling smoke, not spreading like a mist which obscures all around; at other times we saw detached columns descend, by the eddy winds, down the leeside of the hills, which had a grand and wonderful effect. We rode over several parts of the island, and were most hospitably received by the Lieutenant-governor and family; by Col. and Mrs. Robson, at Longwood; also by Mr. John Thompson, who accompanied my husband to Guinea with Mr. P. I feel much indebted for his great kindness during my stay at this place, and for the courtesies of some of Maj. Bassit’s family.

At Orange Grove I spent nine days very happily in the society of Mrs. P., whom I left with regret. She wished me much to stay with them until the return of the ship in the voyage home; but this could not be, as my mind was made up to follow the destiny of my husband. Kind Providence had conducted us thus far to safety, and we were enabled to trust “Him” for the future.

While we remained here a ship arrived from Madras with dispatches, announcing the capture of Seringapatam, in charge of the Hon. Mr. [Henry] Wellesley, brother to Lord Mornington (now Marquis Wellesley) then Governor-general of India. Mr. W., on seeing Capt. R. expressed a great desire to go on board the Friendship, and see some of the unfortunate men who had been in the rebellion; he of course was invited on board, and went over the ship, visiting the prison, &c. In walking round the deck where some of the prisoners were sitting, he stopt suddenly before one of them, and called out, “that cannot be S[utton],” who directly looked up, and replied, “yes, it is S—“ “Good God,” said Mr. W. “did I ever expect to see you in this situation? Pray how was it?” S— still kept his sitting posture, desiring that no question might be put to him, as he should not answer any. 

Mr. W. turned from him, and taking the captain aside, said that this unfortunate young man had at one time a prospect of being eminent in the law, and had been a school-fellow of his; and if any pecuniary aid was wanting for his comfort on the voyage he should be happy to furnish it. The captain informed him, that there were eleven of the prisoners, including S—, who had a little stock of wine, and other comforts remaining, which had been laid in for them by their friends, previous to leaving Ireland; also, that he had some money of theirs in his hands, which would be advanced as it was required on coming into port. Shortly after this Mr. W., and several gentlemen who had accompanied him, left the ship; next day there was a quantity of vegetables, potatoes, &c. sent on board for the use of these poor men. The supply came by the government boat, but it was not known who was the donor; at all events it was most acceptable to the prisoners.

It had been reported to the governor, that some French ships were cruizing off the Cape; in consequence of which he advised our putting in there for intelligence. Capt. N[orcott] of the 33d regiment, and Lieut. C[hetwood], who were at St. Helena, availed themselves of the opportunity to proceed with us. On the evening of the 13th Nov. we sailed from this island; thence, until we reached the 27th degree of south latitude, we had what is called a strong trade wind. It was pleasing to reflect, that the crew and the prisoners were in the best health, which may be attributed to the refreshments, and to a plentiful supply of water; they always having been on full allowance of this most necessary article.

[November 1799] Between the south-east trade and the variable winds, we were again subject to calms. I was much surprised one morning to hear a most distressing cry upon deck; on enquiring of one of the servants what was the matter, he informed me that one of the seamen had his hand nearly bit off by a shark. 

I at first supposed he had been bathing in the sea; but upon farther inquiry learnt, that a shark had been caught in the night by a small hook and line. The line not being of sufficient strength to pull it upon deck: they had played with the animal in the water, in order to drown it. The shark, at length exhausted, was lying as dead on the surface of the sea: a rope was now passed round its body, and it was pulled into the ship; and while a sailor was employed disengaging the small hook from the jaw of the fish, the jaw closed upon his hand and could not be separated, the sufferer roaring lustily all the while, until a wedge of wood was thrust into the shark’s mouth. Three fingers were horribly bit, and bled profusely; how ever no bad effects attended this casualty, as the seaman was able to do duty again in eight or ten days.

Another still more singular circumstance followed the taking of this animal. Every other day since leaving St. Helena, some of our best fowls had been found dead in the coops in the morning; but their periodical mortality could not be accounted for. As the captain never allowed these poultry to be used at his table, the steward gave them to the people, who tended the stock. On opening the shark, the head and part of the neck of a cock was found in its stomach; upon examining which, some verdigrease was observed adhering to the back part of the head. The cause of this appearance was next traced to be a pin stuck down into the neck, which had touched the spine and caused instant death. 

We now discovered, by the intervention of the shark, how our poultry had dropped off. One of the assistants to the poulterer being interrogated, confessed that the head-man (who was a Chinese) had been seen one night in the act; but the witnesses connived at it, knowing they would get them next day for their own use, and not being over scrupulous in what they eat. The delinquent was punished, and deprived of his office. As a farther check, whatever poultry was afterwards found dead was thrown overboard in the captain’s presence.

Had any south-sea whalers been where we were, they most certainly would have had plenty of employment, as daily a number of whales were seen, many of which came very close to our ship and spouted the water very high. It was observed that when the huge animals wanted to go deep down, they turned their body perpendicular, viz, head downward, and the tail shewed itself entirely out of the water.

The addition to our society of Capt. N. and Lieut. C. made the time pass pleasantly; they both had gone from India to St. Helena for the re-establishment of their health, and were now on their return, going with us to the Cape. The former was a well-informed man; had seen much of the world, and some service in the cause of his country. The latter, of a mild unassuming character, was at the same time a perfect gentleman. 

Capt. N. was sometimes hard upon the Doctor; who, if he had possessed fine feelings, would often had been put to the blush; but that was impossible. One day, the captain asked the surgeon, if he had served in any other ship? He said, “yes, he had served in the West-Indies in a man of war.” The name of the ship was demanded; he replied, it was the —, naming a sloop of war. “It was my old friend (pronouncing his name) who commanded her,” said Captain N., “pray how did you like him?” 

This quite took the doctor aback, who was not prepared for a charge in quick time. The fact afterwards turned out to be, that he was only the surgeon’s servant in the sloop; and all the medical education he had received, consisted in attending his master for about 18 months. The truth, however, was not then known on board, and he evaded the dilemma by saying, that he had been a supernumerary on board that ship, in which he went home to England on account of bad health.

We had had for some days past a cloudless sky, and at night all the luminaries of heaven sparkling in the native splendour. Those spaces, in the southern hemisphere, called the Magellan Clouds, appeared now almost over our heads. In the early part of the night they were three in number; two had a white appearance like the milky way, and the other appeared dark, almost resembling a perforation in the canopy of heaven; many strange stories were told respecting them, but too absurd to notice here.

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